Thriving on IPM
Fresh Ideas and Strong Relationships Keep Farm Vibrant
Don Dzen has never been happier with his berries and pumpkins. “The quality is the best ever,” says the Connecticut grower, whose 300-acre farm has been the family business for three generations.
Last year’s cold, wet growing season and sagging economy left many northeastern farmers disappointed, which makes Dzen’s satisfying harvest all the more impressive.
“In a year that was abysmal, he came through with better numbers and a higher quality product,” observes Michael Rozyne, founder of a nonprofit called Red Tomato, which helps farmers sell their sustainably grown produce to supermarkets, distributors, and other buyers.
Dzen’s success may be rooted in relationships that give him an edge in the science and business of farming. For example, Red Tomato’s network has been helping him reach new markets for nearly seven years, and Dzen has been influenced by Rozyne’s emphasis on innovative, ecological farming practices, as well as on quality.
Cultivating such a partnership isn’t easy. It takes time, open minds, and excellent communication. Rozyne says it also requires “the least tangible quality in business, and probably the most important: trust.” This, Rozyne believes, is Dzen’s strength.
During the growing season, the two men talk on the phone early each morning to assess conditions in the market and on the farm. “You put your heart into your farm, so it’s hard to hear feedback that might sound like criticism,” reflects Dzen. “But you have to listen to new ideas. It makes you a better grower.”
Exchanges like these kindled Dzen’s interest in new IPM methods. One innovation is found in his greenhouse, where long benches are pitched at an angle, allowing water to flow downhill through plant beds. The sloped benches conserve water and energy, and they eliminate standing water that can increase risk of plant disease. “They make a big difference for botrytis,” he explains, “and extra water flows out of the greenhouse, not onto the floor.”
The benches were recommended by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which offers training and financial incentives to growers who adopt conservation practices and IPM tactics.
In 2008, Dzen learned about the three-year program through UConn’s vegetable IPM coordinator, Jude Boucher. Enrolling in EQIP formalized Dzen’s relationships with IPM specialists in the state, including fruit IPM coordinator Lorraine Los.
“I had thought I was doing quite a bit of IPM, but I realize it wasn’t much at all,” says Dzen. “Now we’re doing a whole lot more, and it’s not a lot more work.”
Los advises him on strategies for protecting his berry crops, including pheromone trapping and scouting for tarnished plant bug and blueberry maggot. Like Rozyne, she is impressed by Dzen’s initiative and his receptiveness. “Don is remarkably committed to learning new ways of managing pests, and to connecting with people who can help him expand his knowledge,” she says.
Fresh ideas flow both ways in this new set of relationships. After Dzen explored the use of netting to protect his blueberries from hungry birds, NRCS agreed to provide cost sharing for netting based on his request.
Dzen is convinced expanding IPM on the farm was a good decision. “Each year there’s been something that paid for itself,” he says, “something we were missing before.” This year, he plans to incorporate more cultural practices, rotating his pumpkins and strawberries and building up organic matter in the resting fields.
— by ELIZABETH MYERS
The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.